WASHINGTON -- Pending U.S. home sales fell more than expected in September, after posting a big jump in the previous month.
The National Association of Realtors said Friday that its seasonally adjusted index of pending sales for existing homes fell 4.6% to a reading of 89.2. That's down from an upwardly revised August reading of 93.5.
Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a September reading of 90.6.
The index was 1.6% above year-ago levels. It sunk to a record low of 83 in March, and stood at 87.8 in September 2007.
The reading should provide a preview of October's existing home sales numbers when the Realtors group releases them on Nov. 24.
Home sales are considered pending when the seller has accepted an offer, but the deal has not yet closed. Typically there is a one- to two-month lag before a sale is completed.
The U.S. has been coping with the worst housing recession in decades, and many in the real estate and mortgage industries are poring through each month's data for signs of a bottom.
An index reading of 100 is equal to the average level of sales activity in 2001, when the index started.
National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun highlighted one positive sign: The pending sales index has been above year-ago levels for two straight months, though prices continue to sink.
Yun noted sales increases in California, Florida, Long Island, Boston, Minneapolis, Denver and Washington, D.C. Much of that gain, however, likely comes from buyers who are snapping up foreclosed properties at discounted prices.
The Realtors group forecasts U.S. home prices will rise slightly next year to a median of $200,800 after two consecutive years of declines. It forecasts existing home sales will pick up next year to 5.3 million after sliding to a projected 5 million this year.